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Sleepy Hollow

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Sleepy Hollow

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci
Director: Tim Burton
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: Casper Van Dien, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

Tim Burton's films have always been filled with a sweet or sour amount of gothic prancing. The first 'Batman' movie he directed in 1989 was always balanced with a sense of fun even though it was dark enough to startle the most loyal fan of Bob Kane's comic book series. 'Batman Returns' in 1992 was a silly, repetitive and nasty assault on our senses with horrible villains, an incoherent script and some very bad overlapping on the part of Burton's direction. 'Pee Wee's Big Adventure' (1985), 'Beetlejuice' (1988), 'Edward Scissorhands' (1990) and 'Mars Attacks!' (1996) all have their audience and it's easy to love or hate any film directed by Tim Burton.

'Sleepy Hollow', set in 1799 and based on Washington Irving's story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and adapted for the screen this time by Kevin Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker, is the story of New York City Constable Icabod Crane (Johnny Depp) and his investigation into the stories about a headless horseman who is murdering people by decapitating them while charging in grand fashion on his horse. Crane is sent to upstate New York to investigate these disturbing events at the behest of a city judge (Christopher Lee). Some of the people Crane comes into contact with are Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon), his wife Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson), and their daughter Katrina (Christina Ricci). Lady Van Tassel is her stepmother and is a mysterious character who levels her own ideas about the headless horseman which are startling and fun to watch during the film's climax. Other interesting local characters are played by Jeffrey Jones, Casper Van Dien and Ian McDiarmid.

If you wanted to take the film seriously, you would have to look at the characters first and foremost and unfortunately, Depp's is the only interesting one in the whole picture. The film seems obsessed, almost addicted like an alcoholic would be, with showing the decapitation of heads again and again and again. The entire production is a well photographed but familiar looking Tim Burton piece where bad hair and pale expressions extend to the far ends of celluloid for maximum effect.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this film is the cameo by Christopher Walken as the headless horseman. Many would argue it's a full blooded role, but in my mind, Walken's not on screen enough to be given major credit on screen and he isn't. He is to be given credit, however for his absolutely frightening portrayal of the film's chief villain (his teeth alone were hair raising). Burton directed Walken in 'Batman Returns' and Martin Landau also makes an uncredited cameo as a man who loses his head (literally!) in the film's opening scene. Landau won an Oscar under Burton's direction for 1994's 'Ed Wood'.

The element of beauty in this film is the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and the editing by Chris Lebanzon. The work by these two is absolutely riveting and may bring them Oscar nominations. Credit also has to be given to Johnny Depp. He is a great performer and looks right at home in a period piece role as comfortably as any other part he has ever played. He adapts to the role of Icabod Crane as well as any actor could have. He combines intelligence, bravery in the face of horror and a straight laced portrayal of the law very well.

Any director deserves credit for putting his stamp on a film so well. The true key to a director's vision is for avid movie fans to view a film without the credits being shown and then trying to guess who the director is. That's easy when watching a Tim Burton film. If Burton hadn't been a movie director I see him in one of two professions in life.....designing fun houses for amusement parks or taking on the job of an architect, designing gothic looking structures with the most bizarre detail given to every part of his structures.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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